CATCH A FIRE (Phillip Noyce). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (October 27). For venues and times, see Movies, page 115. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Catch A Fire is a cat-and-mouse political thriller set in apartheid-era South Africa that tries to pass itself off as an earnest, important historical biopic. That uneasy mix means its loyalties are divided.
Patrick Chamusso ( Derek Luke ) is a line-toeing coal worker, boys' soccer coach and loving husband and father who's got a bit of a wandering eye. After he's unjustly accused of a crime by police security chief Nic Vos ( Tim Robbins ) and subsequently tortured, he abandons his family, gets militant and joins the African National Congress.
Phillip Noyce has helmed films like Patriot Games and The Bone Collector, so he's less comfortable with the early scenes of family life and political transformation than he is with the later ones of intrigue and danger.
Luke and Robbins are fine, especially in a dinner sequence where the recently tortured Chamusso gets to sit down to dinner with Vos's family and a bit of information gets sinisterly delivered. It's a shame we never believe Chamusso's own feelings for his kids.
There's good use of music, and the film is visually appealing, but there's a strange tone. The conclusion integrates the real Chamusso -- and some themes -- in a way that's awkward yet still moving. Derek Luke (left) and Tim Robbins play cat-and-mouse in Catch A Fire.